Sometimes who we think we want to become takes a very different trajectory from the life first imagined. Sister Grace was born and raised in Queens, and while growing up always wanted to be an actress, a doctor, or a lawyer. Although she did go into the health care field and caring for the less fortunate as a nun, she had tried a few different career paths before entering the convent.
“I was very casual [about entering the order] and I didn’t enter the convent until I was about 20,” recalls Sister Grace. “I tried out everything, but I knew it was what I was supposed to do and suppose to be.”
Sister Grace has been with the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor for 64 years and has dedicated years of service to the Hoboken community.
“When I was 15, I made the announcement I was going to be a nun,” said Sister Grace.
Although she did not have the full support of her father, Sister Grace applied to two missionary commissions, but had not been accepted. After speaking with her confessor, he directed her to the Franciscan order of sisters because she wanted to take care of the poor. However, according to Sister Grace, the sisters never treated people as poor people.
“My order always treated people the same,” said Sister Grace. “We identified them as people who needed our help and we were delighted to be of service.”
Before she came to St. Mary’s Hospital, Sister Grace had worked with many hospitals in the New York/ New Jersey area at the time. She received her Master’s Degree in health and hospital administration at St. Louis University. She had also attended a general meeting of the sisters at a congregation in Rome. It was a chapter of renewal following the second Vatican Council. At the time, Sister Grace was elected as International General Treasurer for her province. She served in that auspicious position for two years.
Making a difference
Sister Grace arrived at St. Mary’s Hospital in January of 1971, and the first thing she tackled were union contracts that needed to be settled. She did so by locking the administrators in a room until they reached an agreement, which they did the following morning and she made them breakfast.
“[Hoboken] was a very different city at that time,” said Sister Grace. “We had a lot of problems. The hospital had a lot of financial problems.”
The moment Sister Grace arrived at the hospital she hit the ground running to bring the hospital out of financial troubles and to establish an organized medical community.
“We had a competent medial staff, but not too much organization,” said Sister Grace. “We just started working and reviewing everything.”
As CEO of the hospital, Sister Grace was in charge of making sure the hospital was meeting standards, she set up an investment program for the sisters, and updated investment information. She had the hospital’s mortgage adjusted with the bank, established a budget, and overhauled the executive staff.
“I tried to establish a strong competent executive staff,” said Sister Grace, who became president of the executive staff. “The doctors called me the head nun.”
“The goal was to make people well,” said Sister Grace. “No one was to be turned away.”
By the end of her 15 years at the hospital, they had about three unions and a wonderful dedicated staff. She left once the hospital merged with the now defunct St.Francis Hospital in Jersey City.
“Everyone was very dedicated and really very giving,” said Sister Grace. “It was one of the best jobs I ever had.”
Afterwards Sister Grace went to work with Brooklyn Catholic Charities as Director of the Senior Center.
“It was good for me,” said Sister Grace. “My mother had just died and I loved working with seniors. I knew you don’t treat them like children.”
Sister Grace served as director of the program for five years, and was then asked to come back to St. Mary’s as chairman of the board, which at that time had been renamed the Franciscan Health System of NJ. She stayed as chair for three years.
After Sister Grace retired, she started to volunteer as the program coordinator for the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults at St. Francis Church. The program prepares people who are interested in the Catholic Church, so they can receive the sacraments.
“It’s a wonderful experience, with wonderful people coming through,” said Sister Grace, who has been doing this now for 13 years. “I have done many things for my religious community, and in all the ministries that I worked in I try to be an enabler.”
Sister Grace always tried to encourage people to do what they know how to do, which made the jobs better.
“I always seemed to enjoy what I was doing,” said Sister Grace. “I lived and worked with some wonderful sisters, who are now retired from the health care field.”
“I feel very blessed by God,” said Sister Grace. “I have had a wonderful life, met a lot of good people, who have helped me understand the presence of God in our world, and I have been to many countries.”
Sister Grace has traveled to Brazil, England, Germany, Italyas a member of the U.S. Hospital Executive Association, and to Russia with her family.
“It’s been wonderful to watch the city [of Hoboken] grow,” said Sister Grace. “It was always such a friendly place. I was always fascinated that everyone seemed to know everybody.”
“What’s nice about Hoboken now is there are so many wonderful young people around,” said Sister Grace. “A lot of baby carriages and children. It’s a sign of growth and new life. With all the new life in Hoboken – it’s still trying to be a friendly city.”
St. Peter and Paul’s Church in Hoboken is sponsoring “An Evening of Gratitude” on April 28th, where they will be honoring Sister Grace Frances Strauber for her years of service. Sister Grace is one of two remaining sisters who worked at St. Mary’s Hospital, (now Hoboken University Medical Center). She served as the CEO and President of the hospital for 15 years.